Apple retail executive Ron Johnson helped launch Apple's retail stores and establish their successful brand. Can he do the same for J.C. Penney?
Apple's senior vice president of retail, Ron Johnson, is
stepping down to take the CEO reins at J.C. Penney.
Johnson is widely credited with helping Apple develop a
formidable retail presence. Over the course of the past decade, the company has
expanded from its initial two stores (in Tyson's Corner, Va., and Glendale,
Calif.) to more than 300 locations worldwide.
From the very beginning, the Apple stores served a vital
role as ambassadors of the brand. "We're here to expand Apple market share," Johnson
noted in October 2001
, as the company opened its ninth location in Palo
Alto, Calif. "If we do great stores in the right places where people gather ... if we
have phenomenally well-trained people, we think our market share will grow
The stores themselves embraced the same clean, minimalist
aesthetic of Apple devices, heavy on the glass and chrome accents, with any
metallic coldness offset by blonde-wood or pale floors. Indeed, like any Apple
release, the stores developed under a heavy cloak of secrecy: Leander Kahney,
in the book Inside Steve's Brain
, described how Apple CEO Steve Jobs
"asked [Johnson] to use an alias for several months lest anyone get wind that
Apple was planning to open retail stores." Apple used census and customer data
to determine the best retail locations, and wrestled with how to best present
and sell a limited product line.
"That was a challenge," Johnson is quoted as saying in
Kahney's book. "But it ended up beind the ultimate opportunity, because we
said, -Because we don't have enough products to fill a store that size, let's
fill it with the ownership experience'."
Jobs apparently had a mockup store built in a California
warehouse, which Apple's people then used to tweak and refine the design.
Johnson advocated some of the Apple stores' more iconic features, including the
Genius Bar. "Jobs liked the idea of face-to-face support, but having known a
lot of geeks, he was afraid they wouldn't have the people skills to deal with
the public," Kahney related. "But Johnson persuaded him that most young people
are very familiar with computers and they would have little trouble" hiring
employees for customer service.
The overall look of the stores has changed little from the early days, although the products on display are much sleeker and touch-centric than when Jobs offered a 2001 run-though of one location in particular
J.C. Penney will present an altogether different challenge
for Johnson. According to Bloomberg, the department-store chain is currently
focused on lowering its overall expenses in order to compensate for a rising
cost in materials. J.C. Penney has also closed some of its stores. In many
ways, becoming CEO would represent something of a return for Johnson, who spent
years working as an executive for Target before joining Apple.
Meanwhile, Apple is seeking to fill his role.
"We've got a great retail team in place and are actively
recruiting for his replacement," Amy Bessette, a spokesperson for Apple, told
Bloomberg June 14.